Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TIFF 2010: "The Trip"

(Special Presentations)
United Kingdom, 90 minutes)

Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

"The Trip" is a uproarious confection, alternately brash and bittersweet, that finds TIFF stalwart Michael Winterbottom dialing-it-down after his usually confrontational efforts like "Welcome to Sarajevo", "9 Songs", and this year's controversial Jim Thompson adaptation "The Killer Inside Me".

A few years ago, the versatile British filmmaker indulged his lighter side with the inventive meta-comedy/faux-literary adaptation "Tristam Shandy: A Real Cock And Bull Story, a mockumentary about a chaotic attempt to adapt one of the world's most notorious "unfilmable" novels, featuring UK comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing fictionalized versions of themselves (or were they?).

Winterbottom reunites Coogan and Brydon here--as, well, themselves?--and this time unencumbered by powdered wigs and waistcoats. The hook is simple: When Coogan is asked by The Observor to embark on a paid restaurant tour of Northern England (specifically, the Lake District, Lancashire, and the Daleson), he accepts it to impress his actress girlfriend. But when she suggests they take a break from each other and visits the U.S., Coogan scrambles to find a companion and ultimately has to settle on his friend/comedic-rival Brydon. A week-long gastronomic road trip ensues, but food is often an incidental concern:

Who does the better Michael Caine impersonation? Coogan insists he'll work only with auteurs, but pines to sell-out to Hollywood (he's none-too-secretly jealous of Brydon's mainstream success--his "small man in a box" character has spawned an iPhone app!). Riffs on Coleridge and Wordsworth (on location at the poet's home at Dove Cottage), a unique take on the Bronte sisters and the easily-missed power of ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All" are among the many subjects argued and deconstructed along many restaurants and hotels.

While largely improvised, there is a semblance of a narrative: Brydon is content with the state of his career and pines to return home to his wife and newborn baby, while Coogan feigns revulsion at his friend's domesticity while obviously searching for companionship through his various sexual conquests and validation by mainstream Hollywood success.

Edited down from a British television series, but nothing seems missing. The feature version is highly recommended but if given the choice I'd go with the original broadcasts, after all, sometimes "more" is "more", esp. when involving comic geniuses of this calibre...

©2010 Robert J. Lewis